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April 27, 2006

Future Shock

Stat Stuff

by Kevin Goldstein

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After talking to scouts yesterday, today let's just take a look at the numbers and see what's interesting. As always at this time of the year, remember: it's still only April, and minor league players are far more streaky than their major league brethren (which can be one of the reasons they're still in the minors).

  • A recent discussion on our internal mailing list revolved around the ongoing minor league umpire strike, for which a resolution is unfortunately nowhere in sight. Wondering what effect this had on minor league statistics, our own Clay Davenport (who can seemingly spit out things like this at the drop of a hat) took a look. Offense is definitely way down, and nearly across the board. For some reason the Texas League is an extreme outlier.
                            2006           10-YEAR AVG
    Lev League          AVG OBP SLG EQA* AVG OBP SLG EQA*
    -----------------------------------------------------
    AAA International   248 314 378 713  267 332 418 764
        Lowest since '96
    
    AAA Pacific Coast   269 335 412 764  279 343 438 793
        Second lowest ('03)
    
     AA Eastern         238 298 356 675  262 329 401 747
        Lowest for any league since 1996
    
     AA Southern        239 305 352 681  261 333 395 747
        Lowest for SL on record (since '88)
    
     AA Texas           274 339 439 786  270 337 411 763
        Second HIGHEST since '96
    
    HiA California      260 326 392 734  271 341 412 770
        Lowest since '96
    
    HiA Carolina        243 312 356 695  256 324 382 727
        Second lowest since '96
    
    HiA Florida State   253 313 376 712  258 325 374 721
        Average year
    
    LoA Midwest         246 311 351 689  256 326 375 725
        Lowest in 11 years
    
    LoA South Atlantic  253 315 380 718  253 320 379 719
        Average year
    
    * Raw EQA: (H+TB+1.5(BB+SB)) / (AB+BB+SB+CS)
    

    This could be the result of big strike zones, cold weather, far more intensive testing programs for performance-enhancing substances, or just simply the pitchers catching up to the hitters, as all things are cyclical. Or, it could be a combination of all those factors and some others not listed. It's definitely interesting though, and something to keep an eye on. Onto the individuals.

  • The Mets put themselves in a tough position by starting top prospect Lastings Milledge in Triple-A, despite the fact that he entered the year with just 48 games of experience above A-ball. Now the 21-year-old Milledge, the Mets' first-round pick in 2003, has taken a dramatic step forward in nearly every aspect of his game, yet is blocked by a Mets outfield of Cliff Floyd, Carlos Beltran and a resurgent Xavier Nady. Not only is Milledge batting .400, but his peripheral numbers are also outstanding. Ten of his 28 hits have gone for extra bases, and he's walked 14 times in 70 at-bats (1 per 5 ABs), a tremendous increase from his career rate of one per 12.8. If Beltran's hamstring problems land him on the DL, Milledge is being mentioned by many (including Willie Randolph) as the temporary replacement, but he'll be just that, temporary. He may be ready to make an impact right now, but he's likely going to have to wait until 2007.
  • The Twins bullpen has been a mixed bag this year. Joe Nathan and Francisco Liriano have been dominating, while Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier both have ERAs over eight. Could an answer lie in Triple-A reliever Pat Neshek? He gets little respect because he's a sidearmer, but he's a unique one in the sense that he can get it up to 92 mph. He has a career K/BB ratio of 302/70 in 246 innings, including a 22/3 mark this year in just 11.1 innings. Now here's the problem: Lefthanders are hitting .444 (8-for-18) off him after hitting .281 against him at Double-A last year. The good news is that righthanded hitters have been completely useless against him, going 2-for-25 (.080) with an almost unbelievable 17 strikeouts. Is there such a thing as a ROOGY? Does that have any value in the majors? Steve Reed pitched in 833 games and earned over $10 million in his career if Pat is looking for a role model.
  • While Jeremy Sowers gets all of the attention as the prize lefthander in the Cleveland system, don't forget about Tony Sipp. Selected in the 45th round of the 2004 draft out of Clemson because most teams thought he'd be too costly, Sipp had a fantastic performance in the Cape Cod League after the selection, convincing the Indians to pay him $130,000. That looks like a bargain at this point as Sipp is off to a blistering start at Double-A Akron, with a 2.14 ERA in four starts and 31 strikeouts in just 21 innings. In his minor league career, Sipp has pitched well at every level and role he's been assigned, allowing just 129 hits in 180 innings while racking up 235 strikeouts against 61 walks. Like Sowers, he's a little undersized, and he lacks Sowers' pinpoint control, but he has a little more giddy-up on his fastball, and his performance thus far is just too hard to ignore. I think he's one of the best unheralded prospects in the game.
  • When the Cardinals selected Georgia Tech shortstop Tyler Greene with their second of two first-round picks last June, nobody questioned his glovework or athleticism, but plenty wondered if the bat would be good enough. It's early, but Greene's performance so far at High Class A Palm Beach is surely a concern, as the 22-year-old is batting .190 (11-for-58) with zero extra base hits and 27 strikeouts, including an embarrassing 0-for-6 with six whiffs on April 11.
  • With no first or second round picks in the 2004 draft, the Mariners took a chance with their third-round pick, drafting local product Matt Tuiasosopo and paying him $2.29 million (the ninth highest bonus in the draft) to steer him away from playing football at Washington. Prospect watchers (including yours truly) got a little too excited when he hit .412/.528/.721 in 20 Arizona League games, as he's done basically nothing since. After batting .276/.359/.386 last year at Low Class A Wisconsin, it seemed like the hitter-friendly California League would be the proper prescription for jump-starting his bat, but he's started the season at Inland Empire batting just .239 (16-for-67) without a home run, along with 25 strikeouts against just two walks.
  • One good thing happening at Inland Empire is the emergence of righthander Stephen Kahn. A 2005 fifth-round pick out of Loyola Marymount, Seattle moved Kahn and his mid-to-upper 90s fastball to the bullpen and the results have been encouraging. In eight appearances for the 66ers, Kahn has allowed just five hits and two walks in 13 innings while striking out 21, and he's punched out 15 of the 25 righthanded batters he's faced. Not having to worry about pacing himself or trying to develop a change-up that never really existed in the first place, Kahn could move quickly through the system, seeing Seattle at some point in 2007.
  • California League teams looking to get healthy offensively are circling games with Lancaster on the schedule these days. While lefties Matt Chico and Greg Smith have both held their own for the Jethawks, the remaining three starters for the Arizona affiliate are all at least mid-level prospects, yet have been absolutely awful. You want to see struggling? Here you go:
          PITCHER       ERA  IP   AVG  OBP  SLG
          Matt Green  11.15 15.1 .400 .471 .671
          Kellen Raab  8.35 18.1 .452 .554 .643
          A.J. Shappi 10.19 17.2 .444 .484 .605
    

    Of the 116 runs scored against the 5-15 team, exactly half of them have been attributed to one of these three pitchers, who combine for only 29% of the team's innings.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

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